- With Mornefull Musique: Funeral Elegies in Early Modern England by K. Dawn Grapes
In Elizabethan and early Stuart culture, life and death were inextricably linked. The widely held philosophies of memento mori ('remember your mortality') and ars moriendi ('the art of dying') alongside short life expectancies—expedited by disease, plague, high childbirth and infant mortality, and capital punishment—meant that death cast a constant and pervasive shadow over life. Responses to death took a variety of forms: funeral monuments, literary elegies, posthumous portraits, and liturgical music for the burial service. But, for her recent monograph, which developed out of her doctoral research, K. Dawn Grapes takes as her focus an early modern funerary genre that has to date received less scholarly attention: the musical funeral elegy.
This subgenre of English song, written in a variety of forms including the consort song, madrigal, and lute song, can be broadly defined as works composed to memorialize an individual who had recently died. Over sixty [End Page 719] such songs survive; three dozen were published in eighteen song collections between 1588 and 1648, two of which consist entirely of elegiac material. The remainder are preserved in manuscripts from broadly the same period. Among the musicians who composed elegies are William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Thomas Weekes, Thomas Watson, John Coprario, Thomas Campion, John Amner, Francis Pilkington, Martin Peerson, and Henry Lawes. Despite the variety of forms in which they were written, and changing musical styles and tastes over the period they were produced, many of these songs were defined by their composers as 'elegies' in their titles and dedications. Grapes is not the first scholar to approach this material. The majority of work on musical funeral elegies has, however, focused on individual pieces, usually in the wider context of a composer's output or of the published collections of which they are part, and there have been but a handful of studies—most notably those by Vincent Duckles (1978) and more recently Katherine Butler (2015)—that consider the genre as a whole or its broader cultural context. Grapes is, therefore, the first to provide a book-length exploration solely dedicated to this unique genre of early modern English song.
By considering the genre as a whole, Grapes draws out and defines the musical and textual characteristics of the elegies over the seventy-year period the study covers, building on the foundations laid by Duckles, and observations about style and composition are woven throughout the study. The driving force, however, is what close readings of these songs, and their wider contexts, tell us not only about attitudes to death, grieving, and memorialization in early modern England—and the individuals the songs commemorate—but also what they reveal about the social, political, and religious dynamics underpinning their production. As Grapes proposes in her 'Introduction', English funeral elegies are a 'complicated genre' that illuminate 'multiple, complex facets of early modern English society' (p. 2), and it is the social structures and human relationships—between deceased, book dedicatee, patrons, musicians, and poets—that determine the organization of the book.
The opening chapter introduces the genre of the English musical funeral elegy, exploring its origins and characteristics, the role of musical elegies, and the broader cultural and social contexts of which they were part, including early modern ideas about death and grief, the late Elizabethan and early Stuart social order they reflect, and the dynamics of patronage they reveal. Deftly threaded throughout the chapter is the case study of John Amner's With Mournful Music, which was written to commemorate the life of Thomas Hinson, a landowning gentlemen who served as an administrator for William Bourchier, Third Earl of Bath, the dedicatee of the collection in which the musical elegy is included. Grapes teases out the connections between these three men: deceased, dedicatee, and musician. Tying the three together was Amner, whose education, it seems, had been sponsored by the Earl on the recommendation of Hinson. As Grapes shows, the...